HL Deb 05 December 1989 vol 513 cc738-41

2.56 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What initiatives they are taking to encourage the European Community and the Western powers to provide economic assistance to Eastern European countries now undergoing change.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, Britain plays a leading part in European Community initiatives to help Poland and Hungary with food aid, project assistance, improved trade access, and investment loans. We are active within the Group of 24 donor countries in promoting and co-ordinating international assistance to these countries. We have just announced increased bilateral assistance for Poland and a contribution to an international stabilisation fund to support Polish reforms.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his reply will give great encouragement to those concerned and involved? I thank him.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is it accepted that there are some East European countries which need aid more than others, and deserve it because of their quicker transition to democracy? Since he has mentioned Poland, does he agree that the case for Poland is perhaps the strongest of all?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. Our only commitment so far is to Poland and Hungary, where reforms are about to take place. We have not yet taken a decision on other Eastern European countries. That would be premature until we are sure that they are firmly embarked on economic and political reform.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we welcome the help that Her Majesty's Government are now giving to Poland and, to a lesser degree, Hungary. Does he agree that the scale of the problem in Poland is so great as to call for a massive combined effort —he referred to such a possibility —by this country and our partners in the Community? Can he say rather more specifically what is being done to provide that assistance, which will secure the freedom in Eastern Europe which we all desire and help to build a safe and secure economy there?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, in the last part of that question, the noble Lord has touched on the real issue. That is why we and our partners in the EC, and indeed in the Group of 24 to which I referred in my original Answer, are working towards a number of measures, including the bilateral projects which I mentioned. Perhaps the most important of these is an agreement between Poland and the IMF which may be close. That would unlock considerable flows of funds over a number of years from the World Bank and other international institutions, as will a far reaching re-scheduling in the Paris Club. The UK will play a full and constructive part in these activities.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that the other day at the CBI Lech Walesa said that what Poland wanted was not simply money but general help with the transition of industry into a modern state? Furthermore, the East European trade council and the CBI have been working on management training for some while. Institutions already exist for such training but it needs more support from the Government and more encouragement.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I read the words to which the noble Lord referred in his question. Indeed the United Kingdom Know-how Fund for Poland is a very good vehicle to encourage Polish industry to make itself attractive for investment. Only last week we doubled the size of that fund from £25 million to £50 million over the next five years. In addition to that, we shall be financing an agricultural project to the tune of £15 million. That is designed to get food into the shops quickly.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the general desire to give assistance to Poland in particular is very widespread in this country? Has he any details as to what machinery has been set up to bring this about in a practical way?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I have referred to the help that the Government are giving bilaterally and also that which the European Community is giving. For private individuals who may wish to help, especially in the area of food and medicines, a number of charities are involved which I am sure would welcome contributions.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, bearing in mind the urgency of the situation, will the Minister inform noble Lords how much of the food aid that this country has promised has arrived in Poland by now? Getting through the coming winter, as the noble Lord will be aware, is a very important aspect of the problem.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, obviously I cannot give a figure of the amount of the food aid that the European Community is giving that has reached its destination yet. I am aware of the problem to which the noble Lord refers. We are concerned about reports of starvation in Poland. I believe that that is caused by recent price rises which are causing hardship and some under-nourishment in the poorer sections of the population. We shall be considering whether the additional deliveries of food being considered by the Community could be targeted on such people. We shall treat the matter with some urgency.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is my noble friend aware —

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, can the Minister say how much of the food aid from this country has arrived in Poland?

Noble Lords


The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, wished to finish his question and ask another, it is reasonable that he should do so.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, asked for a specific figure. He asked how much of the 100 million ecu of aid promised by the EC has reached Poland. I must look into the matter and let him know the answer.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that our noble friend Lady Cox is at present in a lorry driving medicines and food to Poland and that we should all like to wish her well?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I should like to echo that sentiment from this Bench. I hope that my noble friend will have returned by Monday because she has tabled a Question on the subject.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it would be in the interests of this country if the teaching of English were more widespread in Eastern Europe? Is he also aware that the BBC World Service is carrying out valiant work in that direction? Can he say whether the Government are satisfied that sufficient resources are available to make sure that English, rather than German, becomes the second language in that area.?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I agree that the teaching of English is an important part of the process. It is also important that English should be the second language, not solely for our benefit but also for that of others. The British Council is carrying out a programe in that area and I know that the BBC World Service is greatly appreciated. I understand that following the recent public expenditure settlement it is well funded to do so.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, has the Minister observed that whenever there is an interview with a representative of one of the reformed movements in Eastern Europe the person speaks English most fluently? Does that not make us feel ashamed of our performance in the teaching of languages?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am not sure that it should make us ashamed of our teaching of languages because all those people speak English so well. It appears that somebody is teaching English rather well.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, has the Minister noted the pledge from the Federal Republic of Germany of 1 billion dollars of bilateral aid? Is he aware of the remarks made last Sunday by Mr. Walesa that 380 West German firms are involved in joint enterprise compared with 12 from the UK which have shown interest? Does that not indicate the need for a greater enthusiasm from Britain, and will the Government undertake to mount a publicity campaign to wake up British industry to the opportunities available?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I understand that the figure of 1.5 billion dollars pledged by the Federal Republic is in export credit guarantees. That is not the same as a straight donation, which is the case with our Know-how Fund. We are alerting industry in the United Kingdom to the opportunities which will arise as a result of the various programmes, and we shall continue to do so.